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8 Aussie small businesses share their survival strategies for these tough times

| Colin Lee
This article is owned and published by Kochie’s Business Builders.

It’s no secret times are tough. Every day, there are stories of businesses going bust amid the ripple effects of thirteen consecutive rate rises and inflation. While this rollercoaster ride shows no signs of abating in the next 12 months, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the 1.5 million Australian small businesses, as many navigate an economic environment many have never experienced? writes Annette Densham.

From cash flow challenges to finding the right staff and managing fluctuations in revenue, Australian small businesses are hanging on and doing what they do best – changing and adapting.

Revenue and team challenges

For Fairina Cheng, founder of Fairina Cheng Jewellery, her biggest challenge is revenue. “In the last year, I’ve seen high highs and low lows closely tied to consumer sentiment, often coinciding with periods of interest rate and economic speculation,” she said.

“It’s challenging, but there’s no better time than now to review what’s working and do it better. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I’ve been putting the quiet times to good use to work on strategy and consciously align my business with my values. While it feels scary, I’ve committed to investing in customer service, marketing and sustainability to make my business the best it can be.”

Abby Stuart from Oi Cosmetic Studio said the biggest challenges her business faces are team and clients. “Since COVID, there is a lot more entitlement and everyone expects more – more from their jobs, from their services, and a better customer experience. People have lived in fear and want more.”

Abby said businesses must learn to adapt to changing times. “This is the new way of business. Small business needs to change to manage this new normal. We are still growing because we listen to our team and are constantly adapting to ensure we continue to serve our clients by adding value. The key is to give people options.”

Cash flow and staffing

HeyDoodle founder Beatrice Toh believes everyone is trying to wait out this seeming drought in the hope the rain will fall soon. “Our biggest challenge is cash flow. More stores are asking for payment terms, which puts pressure on cash flow. Compared to previous years, when sales would typically pick up by March, we have definitely sensed the slow momentum struggling to build up this year, and it’s already May,” she said.

Janine Leghissa, founder of Desiderate said the economic climate has everyone worried and not wanting to spend. “Our total revenue is down, but our conversion rate is the same, just a lower average cart value; proof that people are spending less if they can,” she said.

While consumers are trying to get a bargain, Susan Waterer from Waterer Communications said one of the biggest challenges is charging what she is worth in the middle of the economic crisis. “I’m telling myself that if people want my services, they will pay for them, no matter what the current economic challenges. If I don’t learn this lesson now – to keep up with Australia’s cost increases – then I feel I never will, which may end up being detrimental to my business,” she said.

For Fernando Berghella, who recently opened a new hub space for Personalised Support Systems in Sunbury, his biggest challenge is staffing. “In the service sector, finding the right number of employees to do the job is always our biggest challenge,” he said. “A lot of workplaces are understaffed, with the health care system is feeling the brunt of this. Add to that the recent budget cuts to the NDIS, directly affecting the families with whom we work, which affects us as the provider. We are currently working with many families who wish to access our services, but have not been equipped with adequate funding for them.”

Colin Lee, founder of Inspire Realty, faces a similar challenge to finding the right people to share his mission of helping people invest in property. “As a small business owner, getting the right team is important because without the right people, you have to work the long hours yourself, so you bite the bullet and do what you have to do,” he said. “Then with cost of living pressures, people lose confidence in the marketplace, and the disparity between renters and those who can afford properties will only get bigger.”

But there is light at the end of the tunnel

Small businesses are getting creative and digging deep to stay relevant and put in place strategies to keep growing.

Susan believes the current climate could be a worthy opportunity for growth. “There’s an opportunity to be found in this crisis, and I hope that my own commitment to ‘small businesses first’ will help all involved conquer the current economic challenges, and lay the foundations for a flourishing future,” she said.

Business coach Gail Eaton-Briggs is focusing on adapting and innovating as the environment changes. “I’m implementing innovation improvements and focusing on relationship-building – it’s always worked for me, and I am trying to do more of it.”

Beatrice hopes for the light that usually comes with the latter half of the year. “We’ve had to adapt our business strategy away from our typical yearly schedule, focusing on our international distributors to keep that momentum going externally, and on new product developments and planned releases to drive engagement,” she said.

For Personalise Support Systems, the focus is on forecasting to be aware and ahead of potential risks. “With change comes adaptation, so we need to continue to be ahead of the game and implement new strategies for long-term growth,” Fernando said.

For Fairina, focusing on mindset helps her navigate these tricky times. “My mindset is something that I’m always working on and it’s the one thing that’s made the biggest difference. I’ve been in business for over ten years and have spent this time working 12+ hour days and believing I had to do everything to be authentic. Realising that I can grow an even better business, while prioritising a healthy work-life balance, has been absolutely game-changing.”

While Colin believes education is the key to helping people get through the worst of the economic climate. “Everyone needs a home over their heads, and property will always be in demand. My goal is to help clients understand the pros and pitfalls of investing, and continually serving them so they know we are here for them,” he said.

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